NAG Wraps Up in Nashville

Nearly 11 months of planning culminated last month with the successful completion of another National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference in Nashville, which yielded record attendance and an outstanding lineup of educational sessions.

NAG is a special group in the competitive convenience store industry focused on small, mid-sized and family-owned chains, and the unique challenges facing their businesses. It never fails to amaze me how these retailers come together to identify opportunities to cut costs and grow sales. The level of interaction and sharing is inspiring.

What makes NAG special is that it is truly the retailers’ association. The educational sessions for NAG 2017 were selected directly by the board of directors, as were many of the speakers. This year’s conference featured speakers from more than 15 leading convenience store chains, in addition to experts from Nielsen, Vanderbilt University and The NPD Group.

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I always leave this conference on a high, satisfied with the work our group has completed, and I believe it’s beginning to show around the industry. We had nearly two dozen new retailers at this year’s conference and more than 25 next-generation executives participated in our Young Executives Organization (YEO) breakout session led by Pat Lewis, a partner in Oasis Stop N Go in Idaho.

Learn From the Best
As you would expect from NAG, the sessions featured some of the most respectable operators from across the convenience store industry.

In the session on family business leadership, which I had the pleasure of moderating, Allison Moran delivered a heartfelt presentation about her changing role at RaceTrac. Joe Sheetz and Jeff Miller deftly discussed the challenges of navigating multiple generations of family ownership.

The real estate panel featured Jack Kofdarali, of J&T Management; Robert Buhler, of Open Pantry; and Charlton Bell, of Tri Star/Daily’s. This session offered numerous takeaways on how to evaluate your real estate investments and what to look for when developing new sites. This was capped off by Buhler’s reminder that while attendees operate c-stores, they are first and foremost in the real estate business.

Vanderbilt University professor Cherrie Clay Clark, outlined how Millennials are different from prior generations and what motivates them in the workplace. The session was moderated by Jonathan Ketchum, vice president of retail for Energy North Group.

The foodservice discussion centered on being unique and competing on fresh foods. Moderator Matt Lally, of Nielsen, outlined the numerous opportunities for c-stores, including how to go head-to-head with the likes of Whole Foods. Mario Spina, president of The Pride Stores; and William Baine, president of Git’ N Go Markets, highlighted their approach for driving foodservice sales, which consists of great food, state-of-the-art store designs and outstanding presentations.

While we had outstanding educational sessions, it’s the networking and relationships that make this conference so rewarding. Lifelong friendships have been formed at NAG through the years and it’s been a pleasure watching some of these new relationships take root.

So much of tomorrow’s success depends on our ability to groom the next-generation of retail leaders. The sole mission of NAG’s YEO is to cultivate young talent in the convenience store and petroleum industry.

In May, we had more than 55 young executives attend the YEO Roundtable at Maverik in Salt Lake City. It was particularly rewarding for me to see so many of those attendees in Nashville. We will continue YEO’s march forward with a host of networking events in 2018. If you have a leader under 40 at your company, please consider having them look into the benefits YEO offers. I expect to announce the date and location for 2018 YEO Roundtable in the coming weeks.

Thank you to all those who joined us in Nashville and please save the date for NAG 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 9-12.